Hawaiian hand signal called shaka
September 12, 2018

22 Hawaiian Phrases to Learn Before You Visit Hawaii

Your bags are packed. You have your new sunglasses, sunscreen and great looking Hawaiian (Aloha) shirt. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew a few Hawaiian words and phrases?

Hawaii is an English-speaking state, but it was only made a state on August 21, 1959. For that reason, the native Hawaiian language plays a very strong role in the current day to day Hawaiian lifestyle.

You will have no issues with non-English speaking people while visiting Hawaii, but it is a great idea to learn a few Hawaiian phrases to show that you respect the culture. It’s also a great to be able to say, “Hello,” “Thank you,” and a few more key words.

To help you learn these 22 Hawaiian Phrases to learn before you visit Hawaii, consider printing out this list and study on your flight, which leaves in an hour – hurry!

The Hawaiian language is recognized as the second official state language of the State of Hawaii. It is impossible to fully appreciate a visit to the Hawaiian Islands without learning some of the Hawaiian language.

Here are the, 22 Hawaiian Phrases to learn before you visit Hawaii, which can help you appreciate your visit to Hawaii.

1. Aloha
This is one of the most often used Hawaiian word, even by those who do not fully understand its exact meaning. Aloha can be used to say “Hello” or “Goodbye.” and it has a deeper meaning to the Hawaiian people. Aloha also means kindness, love and affection. For example, in Hawaii people do things ‘with aloha’ like surfing, working or living, etc. To do something with ‘Aloha’ means to do it with your soul.

2. Mahalo (Mahalo Nui Loa)
Mahalo means Thank you.   Mahalo nui loa means Thank you very much.

3. Kama’aina
Kama’aina literally translated means, child of the land. Kama’aina also describes a local Hawaiian resident regardless of ethnicity or racial background. Often you may hear about a Kama’aina discount that is created for locals. Kanaka specifically means a person of Native Hawaiian ancestry.

4. Ohana
An important word in the Hawaiian culture, Ohana means family in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related or family of an adoptive nature. The term Ohana emphasizes that families are bound together, and members must cooperate and remember one another. In Hawaiian culture, family is everything.  Often, children who grow up together or people who work closely together and have a mutual respect for one another will refer to each other as part of their family or their Ohana.

5. Pau Hana
Pau hana means the time after work. It is considered a time for relaxation, informal socializing with friends and family (Ohana), and enjoyment. When visiting Hawaii, you will see special offers in bars and restaurants that are like Happy Hour or Pau Hana specials. Pau Hana is what many locals say when they are finished working for the day.

6. Haole
Haole is a person who is not a native Hawaiian, especially a white person. This term can often be meant as derogatory, although this is not always the case.  The meaning of this term like with many terms is based on how you use it, not how you say it.

7. Lanai
Lanai means patio or balcony. Let’s have a drink on the lanai.

8. No Ka ‘Oi
No ka ‘oi means the best or the finest. In Hawaii, you may hear this phrase this way; ‘Maui no ka ‘oi” or ‘Kauai no ka ‘oi.’

9. E hele kāua
This is a fun phrase: E hele kāua means let’s party.

10. E Como Mai
E como mai means welcome or come on in. You can use this phrase to invite people to come into your business or your home.  Many businesses have a sign placed above their door that reads, ‘E como mai’.

11. E hele kāua i ke kahakai
This is a phrase you could use everyday while you’re visiting Hawaii, it means let’s go to the beach.

12. A Hui Hou
A hui hou is a great phrase for when you leave someone you admire, it means until we meet again.

13. ’Aina
‘Aina is pronounced “eye-nah” and it means the land or, literally, that which feeds us. Hawaiians live very close to the land, so they believe you should treat the ‘Aina with dignity and respect because it sustains them.

14. Mauka and Makai
Mauka is the mountain and makai is the ocean. Anywhere you look in Hawaii, you will see the Mauka or the Makai. So often in Hawaii you will hear directions that refer to ‘Go towards the mauka’ or ‘the makai.’ 

Hawaiian mountains and ocean
‘Mauka’ is the mountain and ‘Makai’ is the ocean.

15. Aloha wau iā 'oe
Aloha wau ia ‘oe - this phrase is a favorite of ours. It means I love you.

Woman drinking from a coconut
Aloha wau ia ‘oe’ - this phrase is a favorite of ours, it means, ‘I love you.’

16. Heiau
A heiau (pronounced “hey-ow”) is a shrine or place of worship, or a sacred place. Heiaus are all over the islands, and sometimes the signs are old and hard to read. If you come across a heiau in your wanderings, please assume it is kapu and stay out of it.

17. Howzit?
Howzit is a Hawaiian slang term for how are you?

18. Shaka
A Shaka is the very popular hand gesture of extended thumb and pinkie. This gesture symbolizes the Aloha spirit or the feeling of friendship, understanding, or solidarity. 

Shaka - a Hawaiian hand symbol
‘Shaka’ is the very popular hand gesture of extended thumb and pinkie.

19. Malasada
A malasada is a Portuguese donut and likely the best donut you'll ever eat.

20. Pupu
You will read this term on many of the restaurant menu’s you see in Hawaii, it means appetizer.  A plate of appetizers is called a Pupu platter.

21. Auntie & Uncle
Aunt & Uncle are terms of endearment used by children in reference to elders regardless of whether they are part of the family.   

22. Honu
Honu means turtle and is an important term to Hawaiians.  To locals, the Honu is a symbol of wisdom and good luck. Specifically, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is the only indigenous reptile in Hawaii. For Hawaiians, the Honu is a form of a guardian spirit, or amakua.

Sea turtle
Honu’ means ‘Turtle’ and is an important term to Hawaiians.  The Hawaiian, the ‘Honu’ is a symbol ‘wisdom’ and ‘good luck’.

Of course there are many more words and phrases you will see and hear during your visit, we hope this article has given you an introduction and sparks your interest to learn more about Hawaiian phrases.

As always, if you have any questions about the information included in this article or any questions about what to do and see while visiting Oahu, please feel free to ask our Concierge for more information or additional suggestions. 

Visit our Oahu Visitors Guide for more recommendations for all there is to do, see and experience when visiting Oahu.

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